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 MEDIA RELEASE-Michelle Rowland MP-

Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism

Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications-Federal Member for Greenway


Labor has initiated a successful motion in the Australian Senate calling for Australia to co-sponsor the US-led resolution against Sri Lanka in the UNHRC and support an

international investigation into war time violations committed by both sides during the war.

 Federal Member for Greenway, Michelle Rowland, who represents one of the largest Sri Lankan populations in the country, said the motion reinforced Labor’s commitment to human rights.

 “This is an important step on getting Australia to co-sponsor the US-led resolution against Sri Lanka in the UNHRC,” Ms Rowland said.

 “Labor recognises that accountability and transparency is crucal for reconciliation in Sri Lanka and that’s why we are pushing Australia to support an international investigation into war time violations on both sides during the Sri Lankan civil war.

 “I represent a large Tamil and Sinhalese population who want reconciliation in their homeland and it is crucial Australia stands up on this matter.

 “The time has come for the International Community to actively promote human rights, political resolution and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.”


NICK TRAINOR 0407 078 138

Women Rising Above Conflict

ATC Women Advocacy Team in conjunction with Tamil Women’s Development (TWDG) Group initiated a forum that spotlighted ‘the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women’.  This was part of a 16 day global campaign to raise awareness against gender based violence. The event was supported by many human rights organisations, Refugee rights groups and church groups. 

Australian women from Tamil, Afghan and Kachin (Burma) communities were invited to share their experiences to highlight the insidious role militarism plays in perpetuating violence against women in their respective countries.

Summary and photos of the event click here 

Australia Must Raise Human Rights At CHOGM- Hon Michelle Rowland MP - Shadow Minister for Multiculturalism



Prime Minister Tony Abbott must raise issues of human rights in Sri Lanka at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo.

As the representative in the Federal Parliament for an electorate which comprises the largest concentration of residents from Tamil backgrounds in Australia, I have strong interest in the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka and the progress of reconciliation.

The United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, will be submitting a comprehensive report on the state of human rights in Sri Lanka at the 25th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2014. Following her visit to Sri Lanka earlier this year and her observations on the lack of progress in matters including the rule of law, accountability, judicial independence, media freedom and the vulnerability of women and girls, the Commissioner has set this date as a deadline for Sri Lanka to engage in its own credible inquiry into these issues.

For these reasons I am on the record as personally questioning Australia’s attendance at CHOGM 2013. I regularly raised my concerns with the previous Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, who gave assurances to me and representatives of my local Tamil community that human rights, accountability and reconciliation since the end of the civil conflict in 2009 would continue to feature prominently in Australia’s engagement with the Government of Sri Lanka’s representatives both here and abroad.
I have since reiterated my concerns to the new Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, and the Shadow Foreign Minister, Tanya Plibersek. Ms Plibersek has confirmed to me this week that in response to my advocacy, she too raised the importance of human rights dialogue with Minister Bishop prior to her departure for CHOGM.

I support the following motion which will be moved in the Senate today, which reflects amendments proposed by Ms Plibersek in response to concerns raised by myself and some of my parliamentary colleagues.

I believe Australia must do everything in its power to uphold the Commonwealth values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law at this forum in the interests of all citizens of Sri Lanka.

14 NOVEMBER 2013
Media contact: Nick Trainor 0407 078 138

Please click here to download the statement



Interview with Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights-ABC Lateline

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, joins Lateline live from New York to discuss her recent week-long fact-finding mission to Sri Lanka.

Watch Video:



EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: Our guest tonight is Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
She was born and raised in South Africa where she rose to become the first non-white female judge of the high court. She's also served as a judge of the International Criminal Court and president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
She has just returned from a week-long visit to Sri Lanka. Navi Pillay is the most senior UN official to visit the north since Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2009.
She joins us now from UN headquarters in New York. Navi Pillay we're so pleased you could be with us.
NAVI PILLAY, UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: Good evening and thank you for having me Emma.
EMMA ALBERICI: During your fact finding mission to Sri Lanka, did the Tamils feel free and safe to tell you their stories?
NAVI PILLAY: Let me say regularly how pleased I was that the Sri Lankan Government did not place any obstacles in my seeing whoever I wished to, going wherever I went to. And that enabled me to meet both Tamil and Sinhalese communities both sides lost family - sons, husbands, fathers. Both families from both sides just wept and asked for my help in tracing their relatives.
EMMA ALBERICI: What did they tell you about what life has been like in the four years since the end of the civil war?
NAVI PILLAY: The Tamils in particular in the north have huge complaints. For instance they feel completely threatened by the very heavy military presence there, the military have been positioned over Tamil lands, so that's the seconds complaint that lands have been taken away.
I met about 700 people in IDP camps, all of them has been fishing folk or planted rice on paddy fields and their lands have been confiscated without compensation, some of them said that the military have built their structures over that.
Huge levels of insecurity, fear, surveillance and I saw that for myself. People whom I'd interview such as a Jesuit priest, a Christian father were immediately visited by the military even while I was still in the country and I complained to the Government about this.
EMMA ALBERICI: What evidence did you specifically uncover that led you to express deep concern that the Government of Sri Lanka was heading toward what you called "authoritarian rule"?
NAVI PILLAY: What concerned me is that previously there were various independent commissions and it was the commissions who made recommendations on who should be sitting as judges, who should be sitting on Electoral Commissions and so on and these commissions have been disbanded and all the selection now is in the hands of the President himself.
He recently created new ministry of law and order and he's placed that under him in the presidency, similarly defence is under the presidency.
I'm also concerned that NGOs now have to undergo a registration system and that goes through the defence and obviously under the presidency so these are the authoritarian trends I was concerned about in a country that calls itself a socialist democracy, these just are totally inappropriate.
EMMA ALBERICI: This week you criticised Sri Lankans for not properly investigating allegations of war crimes during the country's civil war. You said that if they didn't show progress on this by March of next year that the international community would have to establish its own inquiry. That has already drawn a rebuke from Sri Lanka's ambassador to the UN, so what happens next?
NAVI PILLAY: Let me say that all this stems from the commission set up by the Sri Lankan Government itself, called the LLRC, the lessons learnt, and the rehabilitation committee. It's their own committee who made various recommendations including the investigation of crimes, during the conflict, and justice for victim, reparation for victims and memorial to be erected for all those who lost their lives.
And this is where the human rights council comes in, they have urged Sri Lanka to implement their own recommendations and I then reported to the council that that has not happened. Now, the LLRC recommendations fall short of our expectations on what should be done for proper accountability.
Nevertheless, they have not fulfilled even their own recommendations, I view this with some seriousness and this is why I am urging the human rights council to consider that if implementation is not carried out, say, by March next year when I will filing my further report, then the council should consider credible international investigations.
EMMA ALBERICI: Now, some of your concerns about Sri Lanka specifically where you talk about Tamils telling you of their fear and insecurity, those sorts of reports are at odds with what Australia's own Immigration Minister found when he visited the north himself six months ago.
He said Tamils were most likely seeking asylum in Australia, not for fear of persecution but rather than they were looking for better job, a change in lifestyle?
NAVI PILLAY: I just heard your news report just before your program, Emma and here, there we heard a very public transparent harassment and violence against a candidate who eventually won in those elections. Now if something can happen where in the eye of the public you can imagine how much more is happening.
I have spoken to actual victims, I did not - I went with an open mind, I wanted to hear from the people themselves so definitely there are huge grounds for fear, people are disappearing, journalists, activists, NGOs are being harassed. These have to be investigated and stopped.
I would urge Australia and particularly the immigration department, to review each case on its merits, when they're looking at a refugee or an aslyum seeker. and not follow the Government statement on this.
EMMA ALBERICI: More than 1,000 people from Sri Lanka have already been sent back by the Australian Government, that's the previous Australian Government. They say they couldn't find any evidence to justify claims of persecution. Do you think that's likely to be because the situation has improved dramatically over the past four years or could it be because the Sri Lankan authorities have become better at covering up their misdeeds?
NAVI PILLAY: The Sri Lankan Government is justly proud of all the reconstruction, the building of roads, and other physical structures that they've put in place. These are obviously of benefit and it's very visible improvement in the north, that with the help of other Governments including Australia, including the United Nations, they were able to achieve a physical reconstruction.
But that is totally incomplete if you do not address the human rights situation, address the concerns of people and this is not the image then that Australia should take on board when they're looking at refugees. According convention on refugees, the 1951 convention to which Australia is a party, there has to be an individual case by case review of refugees and aslyum seekers.
For instance, when I was in Australia, in 2011, and visited the detention centres, I found a sizeable number of Sri Lankan refugees being held there, there was a group being held indefinitely, allegedly because of security concerns, now that is a cause for concern in August this year, the human rights committee ruled against Australia on this and requested Australia to release those detainees.
EMMA ALBERICI: Just today our very new Prime Minister Tony Abbott has expressed the hope that aslyum seekers that arrive by boats would be no more than a passing irritant for his Government and for the Indonesians. How do you feel about a world leader describing aslyum seekers as irritants?
NAVI PILLAY: I am deeply concerned by statements such as that because they promote a stigmatisation of a whole group of people and totally against the vision and concept of the convention on refugees to which Australia is a party.
Australia is actually known for having provided sanctuary and safety for many refugees, from the region and other parts of the world, Australia is known for readily rescuing people who are in distress, in boats that are unsafe and against this good record I am appalled at statements such as this which justify discrimination against a whole group, a minority group, people who are coming to Australia, because conditions in their own countries are unbearable.
And let me emphasise again - these are poor marginalised men, women and children who are seeking safety in Australia, they should be rehabilitated and will be of benefit, migrants, refugees, must be seen for the value they can add to a country, rather than as some kind of irritants or toxic waste.
EMMA ALBERICI: Is it though not legitimate for a Government to want to protect its formal immigration processes including an orderly humanitarian intake?
NAVI PILLAY: This is what the refugee convention is about. It understands the legitimate interest of a country, of Australia and Government, the Australian people, that they're not flooded with refugees, I know that in every state nationals are very wary that their jobs are being taken away by immigrants or migrants which actually is not factually correct.
Nevertheless there is that fear I understand then that Governments do have to protect their own citizens against an influx of outsiders, but international human rights standards must be observed at all times, because these are human beings we are dealing with, they're entitled to fundamental rights and one of them is individual screening to understand their situation and obviously no indefinite detention of people on so-called security grounds which the human rights committee has ruled against Australia in August.
EMMA ALBERICI: Finally, the intergovernmental panel on climate change which reported just in the past hours, says it's now 95 per cent certain that global warming is a result of human activity. What to you is the most urgent human rights challenge that that presents?
NAVI PILLAY: Let me say as High Commissioner for Human Rights how concerned I am that it is the poorest women, men and children who are most affected by climate change, who have least contributed to the causes of climate change, who have the weakest voices and the least influence on policies and this is one of the rights I espouse which is the human rights of participation and consultation.
The protection of their rights must be paramount in all climate change policies. In the islands around Australia, there is deep concern, in Fiji, Kiribati for instance where they have identified hundreds of communities who will be affected by climate change.
EMMA ALBERICI: Navi Pillay we've run out of time. I thank you so much for taking your time to speak to us.
NAVI PILLAY: Thank you Emma.

Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada-CHOGM

7 October 2013
Bali, Indonesia
Prime Minister Stephen Harper today issued the following statement:
“When Sri Lanka was selected to host the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Canada was hopeful that the Sri Lankan government would seize the opportunity to improve human rights conditions and take steps towards reconciliation and accountability. Unfortunately, this has not been the case.
“Canada is deeply concerned about the situation in Sri Lanka. The absence of accountability for the serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian standards during and after the civil war is unacceptable.
“Canada noted with concern the impeachment of the Sri Lankan Chief Justice earlier this year, and we remain disturbed by ongoing reports of intimidation and incarceration of political leaders and journalists, harassment of minorities, reported disappearances, and allegations of extra judicial killings.
“Canada believes that if the Commonwealth is to remain relevant it must stand in defence of the basic principles of freedom, democracy, and respect for human dignity, which are the very foundation upon which the Commonwealth was built.
“It is clear that the Sri Lankan government has failed to uphold the Commonwealth’s core values, which are cherished by Canadians. As such, as the Prime Minister of Canada, I will not attend the 2013 CHOGM in Colombo, Sri Lanka. This is a decision that I do not take lightly.
“Canada will continue to monitor events in Sri Lanka and urge the government to implement fully the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, promote respect for human rights and the rule of law, and undertake an independent investigation into alleged violations of the human rights of thousands of civilians at the end of the conflict.
“Canada will continue to work with our partners and through the United Nations to draw attention to the situation in Sri Lanka. I have also asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs to review Canada’s financial contributions to Commonwealth programs and the Commonwealth Secretariat.
“The Honourable Deepak Obhrai, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and for International Human Rights, will represent Canada at the meeting in Colombo.”
Updated 8/10/2013

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